Awesome Art Museums

As extracurricular sojourns go, art museums are a meeting planner’s ace in the hole, a sure-fire destination where every participant, regardless of age, background or culture, will experience something that moves them on a human level. As an added bonus, most major art installations are not only conveniently located in the same metropolitan areas favored for corporate get-togethers, but increasingly include such on-site amenities as cafes, coffee shops, restaurants, restrooms and gift emporiums, adding beau coup flexibility for the schedule-challenged.

An art museum’s primary function is to provide for the collection, preservation and exhibition of works of art. However, a handful of iconic American institutions have actually put the art in art museum by transcending their functionality to embody the very artwork that awaits within.

These 10 art museums enchant us before we even step foot inside.

Museum of Modern Art, New York: When your insides house such modern masterpieces as Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night and Pablo Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, what do you do on your outside? The team of MOMA architects over the years created equally stunning spaces, including the Sculpture Garden, Marron Atrium and the sleek new western addition.

The Getty Center, Los Angeles: As much as one would enjoy the European paintings and sculpture within, this 10-year-old museum at the Malibu hilltop villa of J. Paul Getty, once the richest man in America, is so gorgeous as to stop hardened art aficionados in their path. The tram ride views from the parking lot alone are practically worth the price of admission.

The New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York: At first glance – and even second or third – this seven-story, eight-level new kid on the Bowery block appears as a cubist hallucination, as distinctive in its way as the Guggenheim (below). It’s a great place to hang at the café, catch a concert and enjoy the touring exhibitions, all by living artists.

Guggenheim Museum, New York: It’s perhaps ironic that in a museum that contains the likes of Chagall, Kandinsky, Klee, Mapplethorpe and Picasso, it’s the spiraling architecture by Frank Lloyd Wright that commands center stage. It’s safe to say you’ve never seen great art in this light before.

National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.: Architect John Russell Pope’s classical West Building of Andrew Mellon’s treasure trove of Renaissance masterpieces received a modernist bookend in I.M. Pei’s stunning 1978 East Building. Pei’s triangular shapes define the building’s major spaces, and are echoed and repeated in architectural elements throughout.

Wexner Center for the Arts, Ohio State University: Architect Peter Eisenman, who designed the Wexner with local architect Richard Trott, described as “deconstructivist” this collision of modern elements with an existing 19th century armory. Simply put, it baffles.

Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, Santa Fe, NM: While museums dedicated to a single artist are rare on this side of the pond, O’Keeffe’s close identification with the American Southwest made her the perfect subject for this adobe artist’s compound. Herein resides the largest single collection of her work.

Salvador Dali Museum, St. Petersburg, FL: The enormous mirrored amoeba emerging from this faceless concrete edifice only hints at the fun inside the Dali. Just consider the current surrealist exhibits: Eggs on the Plate Without the Plate, First Cylindrical Chromo-Hologram Portrait of Alice Cooper’s Brain, and Venus with Drawers and Pompoms. Enter at your own risk.

Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami: A sense of whimsy pervades this youngster, which opened in 1996. The palm-lined postmodern waterfall fountain and pool provides an eye-catching entry/promo space for all manner of artistic flights of fantasy.

Los Angeles County Museum of Art: True to its setting, LACMA prides itself in making art relevant and accessible. Where else are you going to see an entrance lit with 202 cast-iron street lamps gathered from around town, courtesy of artist Chris Burden’s “Urban Light” installation.

ArtWexlerTip of the hat: For more details on the art of art museum design, check out “American Art Museum Architecture: Documents and Design” by Eric M. Wolf, published by W.W. Norton. And a personal fist-bump to Norton for providing images of these magnificent museums.

Additional image of the Salvador Dali Museum at night: Sean Pavone /



Jay MacDonald

Jay MacDonald

Jay MacDonald is an award-winning journalist, author and blogger who incorporates humor and human interest into a broad range of topics. Follow him on Twitter @omnisaurus

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